Putin blames Ukraine for election disruptions, vows retaliation

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of attempting to disrupt an upcoming presidential election, which is widely expected to extend his tenure by six more years.

He has vowed to retaliate against Ukraine for these alleged attacks.

The initial day of the three-day voting period was marred by various disruptions, including incidents such as dye being poured into ballot boxes and a Molotov cocktail being thrown at a polling station in Putin’s hometown. Additionally, there were reports of cyber attacks.

Despite these challenges, millions of Russians participated in the election across the country’s 11 time zones. Officials reported a turnout of over 35 percent on the first day.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine overshadowed the voting process, with Putin highlighting instances of what he claimed to be repeated shelling of Russia’s western regions. He also mentioned an alleged attempt by 2,500 Ukrainian proxies to cross into two Russian regions with tanks.

“These enemy strikes will not remain unpunished,” a visibly angry Putin said at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on Saturday.

Ukrainian officials said the attacks were carried out by Russian armed groups based in Ukraine who are opposed to the Kremlin.

A Russian ballistic missile attack hit a residential area in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 70, in Moscow’s deadliest attack in weeks, Ukrainian officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia would receive a “fair response” for what he said was a “vile” strike.

Amid the Ukraine war, the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two, Putin, 71, dominates Russia’s political landscape and none of the other three candidates on the ballot paper presents any credible challenge.

Russians in about a third of the country are able to vote electronically for the first time in a presidential election – something critics say is impervious to scrutiny and open to abuse.

“These are the most closed, most secret elections in Russian history,” Stanislav Andreichuk, co-chairman of the Golos vote-monitoring group that the state has branded a “foreign agent”, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The Kremlin said Putin, in power as president or prime minister since the last day of 1999, will win as he commands broad support for rescuing Russia from post-Soviet chaos and standing up to what it calls an arrogant, hostile West.

Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 after eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv’s forces on one side and pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian proxies on the other.

If Putin completes a new six-year term, he will overtake Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to become Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

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The West views Putin as an autocrat and a war criminal. U.S. President Joe Biden has called him a killer and a “crazy SOB”.

But in Russia, the war has helped Putin tighten his grip on power and boost his popularity with Russians, according to polls and interviews with senior Russian sources.

Russia’s best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last month and other Kremlin critics are exiled or in jail.

The opposition says the vote is a sham and has called on people across Russia to protest by turning out to vote all at the same time on Sunday, at noon in each of the country’s 11 time zones.

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